Commentary Media

Want to Know What Young People Think? Stop Talking Over Us

Hannah Weintraub

Many politicians, activists and adults alike have silenced the youth voice and relegated our involvement to the role of bystander. If the youth wishes to have a future that we would like to inhabit, we must reclaim our voices and demand that we have a say on issues that affect our lives.  

Hannah Weintraub is a high school senior who will be writing and editing pieces on youth voices each week.

A few weeks ago I participated in a Huffington Post Live talk show about teen access to emergency contraception. On the panel of speakers there was a doctor, a father, a mother, and me. Invariably, as I tried to speak up, one of the older panelists would jump in and cut me off. At the end of the show, an online commenter remarked on this frequent interruption saying, “This is a conversation about teen girls’ access to contraception and information. Why do all of these old farts keep talking over the 17-year-old? She has the only relevant perspective in this conversation.”

We laughed at this comment yet in reality it spoke so much truth. Our national agenda encompasses many issues that have a great effect on teens or young women yet our opinions have been left out of the discussion and ignored. Many politicians, activists, and adults alike have silenced youth voices and relegated our involvement to the role of bystander. If young people wish to have the future we would like to inhabit, we must reclaim our voices and demand that we have a say on issues that affect our lives.  

On the surface, my generation has grown up with the greatest chance to spread our messages to far-reaching corners via the Internet. Facebook and Twitter have given us the tools to “like” what our friends do and share “what’s on our minds,” yet few adults take comments from these social media sites seriously. A post on Facebook about inequality or injustice usually gets lost under the crushing avalanche of selfies and “it’s complicated” relationship statuses. Tumblr has emerged as a way for young people to express themselves, but again, the few adults who know about the site often discredit posts as angsty, teenage musings. These outlets that were supposedly created to give teens a way to connect and share their thoughts abandon their young users, so we are again left with few ways to funnel our frustration into meaningful change.

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Of course, there are other ways for youth opinions to be heard besides social media.

Protests and civil rights movements have historically acted as the megaphone for America’s disenfranchised and oppressed. Yet the rebellious spirit that founded and shaped our nation seems to be lying dormant in my generation. This summer, I listened with admiration to stories of youth protests against college tuition hikes in Canada and England and wondered why similar movements haven’t cropped up in America. Students around the world have stood up and rebelled against injustice, yet it seems that too many of my American peers have decided to sit down and just watch as current legislation and decisions dismantle our future security and wellbeing.  

Still, even when youth try to become involved in social activism, in my experience, we are often pushed to the sides by sociological jargon, complicated theories, and age-related discrimination. For many activists, a teenager experiencing injustice is not enough to warrant them as an equal with valid complaints. We must have taken the classes and read the books that explain to us the inequality we face on a daily basis. This elitism often builds up more walls than it aims to break down. 

This past year, I tried to become involved in NOW but I was met with roadblocks because I was “too young.” Movements that attempt to create a more egalitarian world should look at how their goals are manifested within their own organizations and begin to create environments that welcome perspectives of all ages and experience.

Rewire recognizes the importance of the youth voice and is creating this outlet for increased youth expression, and is giving me a space to write each week on a wide range of reproductive justice issues. Soon we will also begin to feature more pieces from other youth contributors. Still, writing articles is not enough. We need to act on our ideas to push for reproductive and social justice. It is up to us, young people, to shout out our concerns and direct the frustrations we write and read about into a movement that will rock our world and avert the bleak future which we otherwise are letting others construct and to which we are allowing them to restrict us. 

Commentary Sexuality

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday Must Become an Annual Observance

Raquel Willis

As long as trans people—many of them Black trans women—continue to be murdered, there will be a need to commemorate their lives, work to prevent more deaths, and uplift Black trans activism.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

This week marks one year since Black transgender activists in the United States organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday. Held on Tuesday, August 25, the national day of action publicized Black trans experiences and memorialized 18 trans women, predominantly trans women of color, who had been murdered by this time last year.

In conjunction with the Black Lives Matter network, the effort built upon an earlier Trans Liberation Tuesday observance created by Bay Area organizations TGI Justice Project and Taja’s Coalition to recognize the fatal stabbing of 36-year-old trans Latina woman Taja DeJesus in February 2015.

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday should become an annual observance because transphobic violence and discrimination aren’t going to dissipate with one-off occurrences. I propose that Black Trans Liberation Tuesday fall on the fourth Tuesday of August to coincide with the first observance and also the August 24 birthday of the late Black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson.

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There is a continuing need to pay specific attention to Black transgender issues, and the larger Black community must be pushed to stand in solidarity with us. Last year, Black trans activists, the Black Lives Matter network, and GetEQUAL collaborated on a blueprint of what collective support looks like, discussions that led to Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“Patrisse Cullors [a co-founder of Black Lives Matter] had been in talks on ways to support Black trans women who had been organizing around various murders,” said Black Lives Matter Organizing Coordinator Elle Hearns of Washington, D.C. “At that time, Black trans folks had been experiencing erasure from the movement and a lack of support from cis people that we’d been in solidarity with who hadn’t reciprocated that support.”

This erasure speaks to a long history of Black LGBTQ activism going underrecognized in both the civil rights and early LGBTQ liberation movements. Many civil rights leaders bought into the idea that influential Black gay activist Bayard Rustin was unfit to be a leader simply because he had relationships with men, though he organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Johnson, who is often credited with kicking off the 1969 Stonewall riots with other trans and gender-nonconforming people of color, fought tirelessly for LGBTQ rights. She and other trans activists of color lived in poverty and danger (Johnson was found dead under suspicious circumstances in July 1992), while the white mainstream gay elite were able to demand acceptance from society. Just last year, Stonewall, a movie chronicling the riots, was released with a whitewashed retelling that centered a white, cisgender gay male protagonist.

The Black Lives Matter network has made an intentional effort to avoid the pitfalls of those earlier movements.

“Our movement has been intersectional in ways that help all people gain liberation whether they see it or not. It became a major element of the network vision and how it was seeing itself in the Black liberation movement,” Hearns said. “There was no way to discuss police brutality without discussing structural violence affecting Black lives, in general”—and that includes Black trans lives.

Despite a greater mainstream visibility for LGBTQ issues in general, Black LGBTQ issues have not taken the forefront in Black freedom struggles. When a Black cisgender heterosexual man is killed, his name trends on social media feeds and is in the headlines, but Black trans women don’t see the same importance placed on their lives.

According to a 2015 report by the Anti-Violence Project, a group dedicated to ending anti-LGBTQ and HIV-affected community violence, trans women of color account for 54 percent of all anti-LGBTQ homicides. Despite increased awareness, with at least 20 transgender people murdered since the beginning of this year, it seems things haven’t really changed at all since Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“There are many issues at hand when talking about Black trans issues, particularly in the South. There’s a lack of infrastructure and support in the nonprofit sector, but also within health care and other systems. Staffs at LGBTQ organizations are underfunded when it comes to explicitly reaching the trans community,” said Micky Bradford, the Atlanta-based regional organizer for TLC@SONG. “The space between towns can harbor isolation from each other, making it more difficult to build up community organizing, coalitions, and culture.”

The marginalization that Black trans people face comes from both the broader society and the Black community. Fighting white supremacy is a full-time job, and some activists within the Black Lives Matter movement see homophobia and transphobia as muddying the fight for Black liberation.

“I think we have a very special relationship with gender and gender violence to all Black people,” said Aaryn Lang, a New York City-based Black trans activist. “There’s a special type of trauma that Black people inflict on Black trans people because of how strict the box of gender and space of gender expression has been to move in for Black people. In the future of the movement, I see more people trusting that trans folks have a vision that’s as diverse as blackness is.”

But even within that diversity, Black trans people are often overlooked in movement spaces due to anti-Blackness in mainstream LGBTQ circles and transphobia in Black circles. Further, many Black trans people aren’t in the position to put energy into movement work because they are simply trying to survive and find basic resources. This can create a disconnect between various sections of the Black trans community.

Janetta Johnson, executive director of TGI Justice Project in San Francisco, thinks the solution is twofold: increased Black trans involvement and leadership in activism spaces, and more facilitated conversations between Black cis and trans people.

“I think a certain part of the transgender community kind of blocks all of this stuff out. We are saying we need you to come through this process and see how we can create strength in numbers. We need to bring in other trans people not involved in the movement,” she said. “We need to create a space where we can share views and strategies and experiences.”

Those conversations must be an ongoing process until the killings of Black trans women like Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee Whigham, and Skye Mockabee stop.

“As we commemorate this year, we remember who and why we organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday last year. It’s important we realize that Black trans lives are still being affected in ways that everyday people don’t realize,” Hearns said. “We must understand why movements exist and why people take extreme action to continuously interrupt the system that will gladly forget them.”

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: The Fight Over Voter ID Laws Heats Up in the Courts

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Texas and North Carolina both have cases that could bring the constitutionality of Voter ID laws back before the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as this term.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intends to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the state’s voter ID law.

Meanwhile, according to Politifact, North Carolina attorney general and gubernatorial challenger Roy Cooper is actually saving taxpayers money by refusing to appeal the Fourth Circuit’s ruling on the state’s voter ID law, so Gov. Pat McCrory (R) should stop complaining about it.

And in other North Carolina news, Ian Millhiser writes that the state has hired high-powered conservative attorney Paul Clement to defend its indefensible voter ID law.

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Alex Thompson writes in Vice that the Zika virus is about to hit states with the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. So if you’re pregnant, stay away. No one has yet offered advice for those pregnant people who can’t leave Zika-prone areas.

Robin Marty writes on Care2 about Americans United for Life’s (AUL) latest Mad Lib-style model bill, the “National Abortion Data Reporting Law.” Attacking abortion rights: It’s what AUL does.

The Washington Post profiled Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Given this Congress, that will likely spur another round of hearings. (It did get a response from Richards herself.)

Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson writes in Bloomberg BNA that Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan thinks the Supreme Court’s clarification of the undue burden standard in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will have ramifications for voting rights cases.

This must-read New York Times piece reminds us that we still have a long way to go in accommodating breastfeeding parents on the job.

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